Wednesday, February 1, 2017

1860s Ladies Wore Earrings!

Victorian ladies loved earrings!

Not every woman of the 1860s wore earrings, of course. But with hairstyles generally showing the earlobes once again, earrings returned to popularity. Earrings varied in size from petite little dangles to larger ‘drop’ earrings.

Photographs, paintings, and fashion magazines of the era all featured earrings on ladies.

Below is a page from Le Mode Illustree, a popular fashion periodical from the era. Notice there are two earring designs feature on it. The date is December 25, 1864.

They Were Affordable 

By the mid-1860s, the industrial revolution had been underway for quite some time. This opened up many new techniques and materials used for jewelry.  Faux jewels had been in use for centuries, but now cheaper metals had been developed also. Ladies of the middling classes, not just the wealthy, could now afford to wear jewelry.

They Were Worn By All Ages

Also, just like now, a wide range of ages wore earrings. Photographs and paintings show young girls, middle-aged ladies, and older ladies all wearing earrings.

Young Girls Wearing Earrings

No Posts, Screws or Clips

In the 1860s, ears were pierced for earrings. Sources differ as to exactly when, but screwback, clip-on, and post earrings were not invented until decades later. Earring backs were usually simple 'shepherds hooks' and some also had a latch for the hook.

Don't you love this lady's massive earrings? They appear to be cameos, likely coordinating with her brooch.

I enjoy creating earrings using some of the materials and motifs that were popular in the 1860s. Here's a peek at a few of the items I currently have listed.

Click here to see more! 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Victorian Bonnet Veils - Not Just for Mourning

Yes, veils were worn for mourning. However, veils were not just for mourning. Veils were a common, practical fashion accessory in the 1860s and were worn for several reasons.

  • Veils protected the eyes from the sun's glare, just like sunglasses do now.

  • Veils protected the face from flying insects and dust. Remember, buggies, wagons and horse-backing riding didn't provide windshields! 

  • Veils offered a lady privacy. They created a personal space for her, even in a public place.

As you can see from this CDV, veils were worn with both bonnets and hats. These ladies have pulled their veils back so you can see their faces. 

Veils have been worn for centuries so ladies wearing them in the 1860s was not a new idea. Veils were worn by young and old alike. Here is both an older lady and a young lady wearing one.

Regardless of race, income and social position, many ladies wore them. 

They were appropriate for both winter and summer weather. 

Veils usually come in a half-oval shape or some rectangular configuration. They seem to be predominantly black or white, but they can also come in colors such as blue, green, and brown. For example, in the Godey’s 1861 fictional story, My Ward, there is this description in reference to a bonnet veil, "She was muffled up in furs, woolens, shawls till she was nearly as broad as she was long, and wore a heavy brown veil."

I love this lovely yet practical Victorian accessory! In fact, I offer bonnet veils in my Etsy shop. My veils are copied from an original veil in my collection.

Available at Southern Serendipity

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Vulcanite: A Fashion Trend

Rubber Victorian jewelry? Yes indeed!

Vulcanite is a substance formed by combining sulphur and India rubber, a natural rubber, and then heating - or vulcanizing - the mixture. It becomes a hard black material, originally intended to take the place of ebony wood. Charles Goodyear is generally given credit for developing the process and his patent occurred in 1844.

Vulcanite can be various colors, but brown or black seem to be the most common. Though vulcanite can be polished to a gloss, it is never as glassy looking as jet. Also, vulcanite pieces are molded rather than carved - a helpful clue when identifying an old piece of jewelry.

Seen on Morning Glory Antiques
Vulcanite jewelry was at the height of popularity during the Victorian era. It was considered fashion jewelry, not just mourning jewelry. Black in general was a fashion color. Every imaginable type of jewelry was made from vulcanite - earrings, brooches, watch fobs, lockets, etc.

Seen on eBay
Vulcanite was manufactured as black jewelry, but over time it can turn brown. Vulcanite is often mistaken for gutta percha. However, gutta percha was used for more functional items like boot soles and gussets, buttons, carriage belts, tubs, pails, cables, golf balls, etc. Little jewelry was made from gutta percha so when viewing jewelry identified as gutta percha, you can know that it is more likely vulcanite.

Seen on eBay
A couple of tricks in trying to identify the material will be (a) to rub the piece and if it is vulcanite, it will smell like rubber; and (b) taste (yes, actually lick it) the piece and if it is salty, it is gutta percha.

I carry vulcanite earrings in my shop, made from genuine, vintage vulcanite beads. Notice the resemblance to the original Victorian pair in my collection in the top picture!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Fichu: A Fun, Frilly Fashion Garment

A Victorian fichu was a gauzy, frilly, large collar or small shawl and was a carry-over from the 18th century. The word seems to have begun as a French term for a 'carelessly thrown on' neckerchief. Eventually it also became popular in England, the United States, and elsewhere.

Nineteenth century fichus became more elegant and changed shape from those of the 18th century. In the Victorian era they were a suitable accessory for day wear as well as evening wear. They varied in shape and style from a small lacey confection to a longer, more dramatic fashion statement.

Following are a few quotes from Godey’s and Peterson’s, leading ladies magazines of the day.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Peterson’s, June 1864
The Eugenie Fichu

This fichu is intended for an evening or a dinner toilet and makes an admirable finish to a dress, besides obviating the necessity of having any further trimming on the bodice. The fichu forms a kind of bodice, open in front, and with two long ends before and behind. It may be made in any bright-colored silk, and is covered with white tulle or net, put plain over the silk, with the exception of the back, which is arranged in five puffings from the waist. The fichus is trimmed round with a narrow black lace, and a wide white lace or blonde, divided by a narrow row of velvet. It is further ornamented with black lace leaves applied on the net or tulle. These leaves can be purchased separately, or they may be cut out from old pieces of black lace, the foundation of which is worn out. The dress has a trimming at the bottom to correspond.

Peterson’s, January 1864

Our fifth engraving is a fichu, trimmed in purple or blue, as the wearer’s taste may dictate.

Peterson’s, February 1864

For dinner or evening dresses, low bodies are very generally worn with a cape or fichu in black and white lace or guipure. For young ladies, silk dresses are often made with a low body, and a small squared shaped cape of the same material to wear over it, the body is then high, and if wished to be worn low, the silk cape is replaced by a tulle fichu, so that the dress is equally appropriate for walking or evening attire.

Barrington House Collection

Godey’s, August 1860

Fichu for summer wear, suited to dinner or evening dress, it is quote as graceful and a newer shape than the favorite Marie Antoinette. The bows may be either of black velvet, or a shade of satin ribbon harmonizing with the dress.

Godey’s, September 1860

Fichu for a low corsage or evening wear. It is of black lace over white; the medallions and ruche being of ribbon. Two rows of good black lace surround it.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Godey’s, June 1861

The Antionette fichu, with ends crossing either behind or before, is also very much worn with muslin, barege or jaconet dresses. This fichu supplies the place of a high body, and makes, with spencers, a variety in the toilet. It is composed of white muslins, sometimes of either black or white lace.

Seen on Daguerre

Godey’s, August 1862

Besides the white waists, which are worn with low-neck bodies, there are numerous styles of fichus made of muslin, tulle, or lace, and trimmed with ruches, velvets, and bows of ribbon….Many of the fichus cross on the breast, and terminate in long, rounded ends trimmed with velvet, or in pointed ends which fasten underneath the sash or waistband.

My Re-Creation

I have a lovely original fichu in my collection and I decided to offer fichus in my shop based on it! Below is one of my creations designed from the original. 

Available on Southern Serendipity

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Turquoise in the 1860s

Turquoise was a popular gemstone during the 1860s, but it had a long history of popularity. Other cultures had valued turquoise and used it decoratively for centuries before.

Turquoise made its entrance into the western world primarily through Persia and Egypt, thanks to Napoleon’s inroads to North Africa via his military campaigns. Shortly after the 1798 Battle of the Nile, wealthy women across Europe began wearing the stone in their jewelry.

Persian turquoise differs from turquoise mined in the United States in that it has no visible matrix. Matrix is the black or brown veining that is common here in our country. Instead, the turquoise that Victorians were familiar with was a fine robin’s-egg blue. To our eyes it almost looks fakey since it has no veining, but it was very much in prized in the 1860s and continued to increase in popularity.

Here are some lovely examples of mid-Victorian turquoise jewelry.

Seen on Morning Glory Antiques
Seen on eBay
Seen on Ruby Lane Antiques

Just for fun, I occasionally incorporate a little turquoise into my jewelry such as this pair of earrings.

Purchase at Southern Serendipity

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Croquet Anyone?

Why certainly! I love to play Croquet! So glad you asked!

Croquet was very popular and would have been the “latest and greatest” social outdoor game in the mid-1800s. Why? At the time it was considered the first outdoor game that was approved for men and women to play together. It was not too athletic for ladies and not too effeminate for gentlemen. Peterson’s Magazine (June 1864) extolled, “This capital out-door game for ladies and gentlemen is just now exceedingly popular.”[i] A description of the game and a set of rules followed this declaration. In fact, entire families could play—young and old together.

Not only was Croquet a very social recreation, it was considered very healthful since it was played outside. In the preface to the rulebook, Croquet, by Captain Thomas Mayne Reid, he stated, “Unlike the games already mentioned, it is a sport of the open air, and therefore highly conducive to health; while it has the advantage of most other out-door amusements in affording an easy exercise to the body, without requiring the violent muscular exertion which renders many of these objectionable to persons of delicate frame.”[ii] By the way, this particular rulebook by Captain Reid, copyrighted 1863 and published in Boston and London, is thought to be the earliest American-published rulebook.

John Leech, Punch Magazine
17 August 1861
A nice game for two or more
The exact origins of Croquet are murky. However, descriptions of a similar game actually appear as early as the 1600s, waxing and waning in popularity over the years. Sets of rules were somewhat varied, depending on the era and region, but were not generally codified until the mid-1800s as the game once again emerged into popularity. In the mid-Victorian era Croquet returned to the forefront primarily in England and was then exported to America from there. Initially the game was played mainly by the upper crust of society simply because one had to have a large flat, cleared space for playing. However, it was not long before all societal levels created their own opportunities to play. Eventually the popularity of the game caused it to be the subject of works of art, books, music, and fashion.

Incidentally, a nifty invention was patented that helped ensure the popularity of Croquet when it resurged. This machine was the lawnmower, patented in 1830 by engineer Edwin Beard Budding. How handy not to have to have to use sickles and scythes to tame the lawn!

Creating Our Own Croquet Party
Instead of waiting around for more reenacting events to occur in our region, a few years ago I decided that it was time to invent fun excuses for our local network of reenacting friends to get together more often. We needed an activity that would appeal to men and women, and something that a variety of age groups could play. Hence, our annual Croquet Picnic was born!

Our back yard was sufficient for setting up the playing course, so the venue was taken care of. I had found an 1860s rulebook for Croquet. Next we needed to locate equipment. In reading the rulebook, it gave equipment specifications and it was clear that we needed to find a set or two of mallets that more closely resembled those of the 1860s. The earlier mallets generally have longer handles than most modern sets. I was happy to find some older sets and a decent looking modern set, all of which are wooden with no modern plastic.

We now had a rulebook, a venue, and enough equipment sets to allow plenty of people to play. The next item to make the day complete was to choose appropriate refreshments. None of our network of reenacting friends (which I informally dubbed The Southern Victorian Society) lives in the same town so everyone would be traveling a minimum of about an hour to attend. I finally concluded that having a noon picnic would be the best option since I was hoping the occasion would be a day-long event and I wanted everyone well-fed. And if we were all going to dress 1860s and play this vintage game, it only made sense to have a vintage-style picnic.

Everyone was encouraged to research what foods would be typical Southern fare (since we are all in South Carolina) and to choose appropriate dishes to bring. The idea was enthusiastically embraced and when the day arrived, the picnic tables were laden with delicious foods. Books such as The Carolina Housewife, by Sarah Rutledge; The Robert E. Lee Family Cooking and Housekeeping Book, by Anne Carter Zimmer; and An Antebellum Plantation Household, by Anne Sinkler Whaley LeClercq, were consulted. Our Southern menu included fare such as venison, fried chicken, ham, Hoppin’ John (I even used a heritage Carolina rice for this recipe), pickled okra, skillet cornbread, farm fresh butter, applebutter, seasoned carrots, succotash, pound cake, gingerbread, peach pie, cold cider, iced tea, and more! No one departed hungry!

We set up two long tables for the main meal and another table for desserts. I needed large pieces of fabric to disguise the modern tables and I found several plaid queen-sized sheets that looked good enough until I could find something better. I did find lovely linen napkins, however. We used antique transferware plates, I found goblets that look suitable for the period, and I already had silverware that looked fairly appropriate. We also used antique pitchers for drinks. I encouraged everyone to bring their food in dishes that would complement the 1860s theme as much as possible. Because of our South Carolina weather, we held our picnic in the cooler fall so the table centerpieces were made up of autumn leaves, gourds, pumpkins and the like.

The Croquet Game
Directly after the scrumptious noon meal, those who wanted to play Croquet chose up sides. The game was the afternoon entertainment as the appreciative audience on the sidelines cheered, jeered, and gossiped. My husband, Ray, was the resident technical expert on how to set up the course and how to play the game. He used Beadle’s Dime Handbook of Croquet (reprinted by Sullivan Press) for reference since it was the most easily accessible 1860s handbook at the time. Squabbles over rules were an ongoing issue in the past history of the game, but as nearly as we could tell the disagreements were over minute details and the gist of the game actually did not vary greatly. Therefore, we felt comfortable using the Beadle’s 1866 edition as an accurate representation of the game. Having since found Captain Reid’s rulebook online, we will consult it next time as well.

Succinctly stated, according to Beadle’s, the object of the game is, “…to drive the balls through all the hoops, in the direction indicated by the dotted lines on the diagrams, [The diagram is furnished in the rulebook] and to strike the two posts. The side all of whose members succeed in performing this feat first wins the game.”[iii] This sounds like a friendly, tidy little game until you realize that in order to win, each side may make adversarial moves against their competitors along the way. Several crafty team members on both teams immediately began exploiting any and all opportunities for thwarting the opposition.

For instance, Beadle’s explains, “If a player hit with his own ball any of the others, he is allowed to place his own against the ball he has struck, and setting his foot upon his own ball, he hits it with the mallet, and the force of the blow drives the opponent’s ball a considerable distance in the direction toward which the mallet is directed.”[iv] Not only that, “…he is at liberty to drive the ball in any direction he pleases.”[v] This is a polite way of saying that your opponents are allowed, and likely, to smack your ball clear out into the bushes if they get the chance! It is then up to you to work your way out of your predicament when your turn comes….or it may even take you several turns to rescue yourself. One must certainly play very strategically and defensively in order to outsmart the opposing team members. Thus, our teams provided much merriment to themselves and the onlookers as each team member struggled to complete the course while performing dastardly tricks on the opposition as often as possible.

You would be mistaken in thinking that when team members complete the course that they are now out of the way and no longer a threat to anyone. Adding to the controlled mayhem, there is yet another complicating factor to be reckoned with. Beadle’s continues, “When a player has passed through all the hoops he becomes what is called in the technical language of croquet a rover, and is privileged to rove about all over the ground, croquing [sic] his friends and foes.”[vi] In other words, the rover could still smack opponents’ balls off course and help his teammates win. As you can see, there can be plenty of challenges for the teams!

The nature of the game also allows ample time for good-natured teasing and light-hearted conversation. In our case, since our group of reenacting friends only see each other now and then, combining this type of social recreation along with the picnic works perfectly for an enjoyable day of visiting. We are all looking forward to our next Southern Victorian Society Croquet Picnic. I highly recommend a croquet party to you and your friends!

Reading List 
Charlton, James, William Thompson, Roger Adler, Katherine Alder, and Andrew Adler. Croquet: Its History, Strategy, Rules and Records. Rev. ed. Lexington, MA: Stephen Greene Press, 1988.

LeClercq, Anne Sinkler Whaley. An Antebellum Plantation Household: Including the South Carolina Low Country Receipts and Remedies of Emily Wharton Sinkler; With Eighty-Two Newly Discovered Receipts. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2006.

Reid, Captain [Thomas] Mayne. Croquet. Boston: James Redpath, 1863.

Routledge, Edmund. Beadle’s Dime Handbook of Croquet. 1866. Reprint, West Chester, PA: Sullivan Press, 1999.

Rutledge, Sarah. The Carolina Housewife. 1847. Reprint, Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1979.

Scheuerle, William H. Croquet and Its Influence on Victorian Society: The First Game that Men and Women Could Play Together Socially. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2013.

Vernon, H.J. “Croquet and Troco.” Peterson’s Magazine, June 1864.

Zimmer, Anne Carter. The Robert E. Lee Family Cooking and Housekeeping Book. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

[i] H. J. Vernon, “Croquet and Troco,” Peterson’s Magazine, June 1864, 451.
[ii] Captain [Thomas] Mayne Reid, Croquet (Boston: James Redpath, 1863), ii.
[iii] Edmund Routledge, Beadle’s Dime Handbook of Croquet, (1866; repr., West Chester, PA: Sullivan Press, 1999), 12.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Ibid., 13.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The History of Roman Pearls

Pearls are a timeless classic that have been prized for centuries. They are mentioned in the Bible and in ancient Chinese and Roman records, for example. Natural pearls were rare and expensive so that only the wealthy could afford to own them. In fact, they seem to have been quite the status symbol. The Roman emperor Julius Caesar passed a decree mandating that only aristocrats could wear pearls within the boundaries of Rome.

As with many expensive products, efforts at creating a cheaper look-alike alternative to the natural pearl were sought. Several attempts are notable. The ancient Romans coated glass beads with silver and then over-coated with glass again in an attempt to replicate genuine pearls. Another idea was to coat small balls of clay with mica powder and then bake them.

Ablette - a fish whose scales were used to manufacture faux pearls
Later on glassmakers in Venice came up with a couple of approaches. One was to use powdered glass and egg whites, and snail slime, and the other was to use shells and fish scales. The faux pearls were apparently so authentic looking that the Venetian pearl merchants successfully lobbied to make it illegal to produce them. Eventually elsewhere in Italy another process was invented, that of using alabaster coated with an essence extracted from fish scales. These were called Roman Pearls. Also, in the 1700s a Paris rosary maker, M. Jacquin, patented a method using hollow blown glass spheres that were coated on the inside with ground fish scales and then filled with wax to give them a weight similar to a natural pearl.

A plate from Diderot’s "Encyclop├ędie"
showing faux pearl manufacturing
In A History of British Fishes, published in 1836 by William Yarrell, he gives details about the extraction of the pearlescent lustre from the scales of the fish.

On the inner surface of the scales of Roach, Dace, Bleak, Whitebait, and other fishes, is found a silvery pigment, which gives the lustre these scales possess. Advantage has been taken of the colouring matter thus afforded to imitate artificially the Oriental pearl. When this practice was most in fashion, the manufactured ornaments bore the name of patent pearl, and the use was universal in the bead-trade for necklaces, eardrops, &c. At present, it seems confined to ornaments attached to combs, or small beads arranged with flowers for head-dresses. So great was the demand formerly at particular times, that the price of a quart measure of fishscales has varied from one guinea to five. The Thames fishermen gave themselves no trouble beyond taking off the side scales, throwing the fish into the river again; and it was the custom for hawkers regularly before selling any white-fish, as they were called, to supply the beadmakers with the scales.

Vintage Roman pearls seen on the
Portobello Market

The method of obtaining and using the colouring matter was, first carrying off the slime and dirt from the scales by a run of water; then soaking them for a time, the pigment was found at the bottom of the vessel. When thus produced, small glass tubes were dipped in, and the pigment injected into thin blown hollow glass beads of various forms and sizes. These were then spread on sieves, and dried in a current of air. If greater weight and firmness were required, a further injection of wax was necessary. Of this pigment, that obtained from the scales of Roach and Dace was the least valuable; that from the Bleak was in much greater request; but the Whitebait afforded the most delicate and beautiful silver, and obtained the highest price, partly from the prohibitory regulations affecting the capture of this little fish, the difficulty of transmission, and rapid decomposition.

Before too long mass-production of faux pearls, sometimes called Roman Pearls or Parisian Pearls, was underway in a number of places, enabling more than just the aristocracy to afford them. Some of these interior-lined-glass processes endured until WWII.

So regardless of which era you portray in reenacting - or even for your modern outfits - wear your lovely faux pearls knowing that you are carrying on a time-honored tradition!
Georgian Roman pearl earrings. Seen on 

If you're looking for a pair in mid-Victorian style, I have a number of options in my Etsy shop. Enjoy!

Available at
Southern Serendipity on Etsy